I grew up as a second-generation Chinese-American. My parents were immigrants who had worked hard to come to the United States hoping for a better life, including high hopes and dreams for their children.
As a result, my mom was determined my sisters and I would be successful in our lives. She had unrealistic expectations for us as children – perfect behavior and straight A’s. Furthermore, she dreamed I would be a prodigy in piano and violin. I was gifted in music, but I was definitely not a prodigy.
I have distinct memories of practicing the piano with my mom as my piano teacher. If I did not play a piece perfectly, she would drag me to the kitchen, place my hand on a cutting board and threaten to chop my fingers off with a butcher knife in her hand. She would regularly beat me with a stick if I did not perform perfectly for her in music and academics.
I was also enrolled in a private school that was abusive. Students would be paddled in front of the class if they did not behave well or perform academically.
As a result, I grew up with shame and fear. I always felt I had to do more – but “more” was an elusive goal always beyond reach. Because I was afraid I would be abusive like my mother, I also feared I would never be a good mother. My only experience of womanhood was harsh, abusive and condemning.
During my sophomore year in college, I developed a sweet relationship with Jesus. Another Asian woman in my campus ministry became my friend. She was grace-oriented and fun! Through the Body of Christ – people who believed in Him – I experienced nurturing relationships as well as an understanding of God’s love for me. Through God’s Word, I learned how Jesus bore my shame on the cross so I could be set free.
As the scales of shame started to fall off, I experienced deep anger, grief and loss over my abuse. As I got to know God’s heart for me, I was able to acknowledge my abusive upbringing. Through counseling, I grieved the loss of the safe and nurturing upbringing God intended me to have. I needed to give myself permission to grieve because I learned grief brings honor to the victim. Grief says, “This should not have happened to me.”
Giving myself space to grieve also allowed room for my heart to forgive. I learned forgiveness is letting go of wanting my abusers to hurt the way they hurt me. Forgiveness desires blessing instead of retribution. I also learned people are not all good or bad. I could celebrate the good in my parents, such as their sacrifices to raise us in a country with more freedom. I learned to let go of the bad.
Today, I am a licensed counselor who uses my experiences to bring hope to those who have been abused and to encourage those who live in fear and shame. My three sons have a mother who has been transformed by the love and grace of Christ. I love my sons dearly, and although motherhood has not been perfect nor easy, being a mother has been more amazing than I could have imagined.
God uses His Word and His people to restore us and bring hope and healing, to help fill the gaps of our childhood wounds. Our experience of God’s grace may not completely take away the pain, but God can resurrect new experiences and relationships.
Isaiah wrote about the ministry of God’s servant long before Jesus came to fulfill these promises. I have found God does indeed “comfort those who mourn … bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-3). Ask God to redeem your losses. Ask Him to reflect His love through a community of believers in your life – people who can help you experience beauty out of the ashes.